The Legacy of the Amazon Women and Other Female Warriors Throughout History
The Greeks delighted in sharing salacious tales of the Amazons, warrior women that charged onto the battlefield on horseback, bows drawn. These subjects of fear and fascination proved that a woman trained up from girlhood to be a masterful combatant can be just as much of a threat as any man. But for a long time historians assumed that the Amazons were merely a figment of Greek imagination until they uncovered evidence that seemed to prove they existed. Using the Amazons as an entry point, this playlist goes on to discuss a long history of women who defied gender norms to become soldiers, war heroes, and military strategists, with or without acknowledgment. In a male-oriented society, what could be more terrifying than a ferocious woman willing to take up the sword?
This playlist kicks off with an archeological activity that allows for students to analyze real artifacts. In this activity, students step into the role of archeologists for an excavation reenactment where they’ll uncover the secrets of a burial site in Siberia. This worksheet provides your young historians with images from an actual excavation and asks them to answer questions about what the remains and artifacts might suggest about the person interred there. The earrings paired with the collection of weapons might have them scratching their heads which is a great way to start thinking about our image of a warrior. If you really want to up the ante, stage your own mock excavations using props or other suitable representations and plastic bins with sand or soil that students can dig into to stage their own archeological survey.
Adrienne Mayor investigates theories about the mysterious Amazons, separating fiction from historical fact in the fascinating animated clip.
Students will witness real footage of one of the first excavations that provided us with the evidence that proved that the Amazons really did exist. It was this burial site and the artifacts found with the remains that told us the story of the warrior women of Scythia who often lost their lives on the battlefields.
You probably don’t think about ancient women as having been covered in tattoos but ancient remains like that of the Ice Princess tell us that Scythian women were indeed ink enthusiasts. What can their tattoos tell us about their lives and their beliefs? This video clip gives us some ideas.
Scythian women were not the only group given the moniker of Amazon. A continent away West Africa, Europeans came upon a group of warrior women from Benin that they called the Dahomey Amazons. They fought and died trying to keep their people free and maintain control of their ancestral land. They even are said to be the inspiration for the Dora Milaje, the female soldiers featured in the blockbuster “Black Panther”. If this peaks your students’ interest, you can find more information to share with them in this article from the BBC.
You’ll probably be as surprised as we were to find out that women on the battlefield as strategists and soldiers, is not an anomaly. All throughout history and all over the world, women have defied social norms and gender stereotypes by putting their lives on the line to protect their people and their ways of life. This interactive map allows students to independently study many of these women and women-led militias. It’s not a complete listing but it’s comprehensive enough that students will come away with some exciting anecdotes about our favorite warrior women.
This free downloadable chart contains 12 descriptions of final projects for students to choose from, from trading cards to Facebook pages. They can choose a historical figure (or, in this case, a group of people should be acceptable) that they learned about through this playlist. There is also a grading rubric so that students know what they should include.
These are the princesses that didn’t make the Disney cut because they weren’t waiting for a prince and there’s a chance that there wasn’t a “happily ever after.” Rejected Princesses is a site that contains engaging illustrated stories about many of the women we’ve discussed in this playlist and many more that we haven’t. Please note that some stories may not be appropriate for middle school but the site does a great job of categorizing each story by content and maturity level.
Extension Activity: Creative Assessment Ideas
Now that your students have become acquainted with so many ferocious real-life superheroes, here are some ideas for how you can get them to take what they’ve learned and dig a little deeper.
1) The legendary Amazons gave us Wonder Woman and Xena Warrior Princess. The Dahomey Amazons gave us the Dora Milaje. Now, invite your students to create their own fictional character or army based on one of the women or groups mentioned in this playlist. They can share their ideas in the form of short stories, scripts, or graphic novels, just as long as we can clearly see what inspired this character and how they processed what they’ve learned to create something new.
2) Choose one woman or woman-led group and design one of the following to represent what they stand for, their accomplishments, and any other defining features.
a) a flag
b) a coat of arms
c) a uniform (if they didn’t already have one)
Eboni has extensive experience in curriculum development, with a focus on culturally-responsive and arts-based approaches. Having spent years creating academic content and providing professional development to teachers, she now curates themed playlists meant to provide educators with valuable, time-saving resources.
Common Core ELA Standards
6-8.WHST.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
6-8.WHST.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
6-8.WHST.1.b Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
6-8.RH.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
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